Turn the tables


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Turn the tables'?

Reverse the positions of adversaries. The phrases is often used when the weaker position subsequently becomes dominant.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Turn the tables'?

Games like backgammon are known as ‘tables’ games. The phrase ‘turn the tables’ derives from these games and from the practice of reversing the board so that players play from their opponent’s previous position.

The first known example of the figurative use of the phrase in print is in Robert Sanderson’s XII sermons, 1634:

“Whosoever thou art that dost another wrong, do but turn the tables: imagine thy neighbour were now playing thy game, and thou his.”

See also: vice-versa.

Trend of turn the tables in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.